On 26 September 2013, Pradeep Gupta, the private secretary of the president of India sent an email to himself, from his official account to his personal one. The email contained no text in the body, but there was a copy of a passport attached. The passport belonged to Suchismita Mukherjee, the then 25-year-old-granddaughter of the president. On the same day, Gupta forwarded this email to Alok Chauhan, a corporate affairs executive at Essar Services India Limited (ESIL), one of the companies under the Essar group—an Indian conglomerate that has investments in sectors such as steel, infrastructure and energy.
In an earlier email exchange that had taken place in the same month, the subject of which read, “Suchismita Mukherjee,” top executives of the Essar group such as Adil Malia, the group president for Human Resources (HR) and Sunil Bajaj, the director of ESIL’s corporate relations group, were discussing which position they ought to hire Mukherjee for. The email indicated that she would be hired at Essar’s London office and the exchange revolved around whether they should employ her as an intern or for a full-time job in one of Essar’s companies.
In their mails to Lynne Sampson, an HR manager with Essar Oil in London, Bajaj and Malia articulated a number of queries around Mukherjee’s prospective employment. They wanted to know from Sampson, the details of how much money Mukherjee would make if she were to be hired as an intern as opposed to a permanent employee, among other things.
Sampson wrote to Malia on 19 September asking if he had received any response regarding her suggestion “to follow up the internship route initially and then convert to a permanent role afterwards?” She also asked in the email, “Do you want me to do anything to move it along?”
Malia replied that he had passed on both the options, either to start as an intern “for a year and then apply for visa”, or to directly employ her and “apply for visa and seek their help for getting the visa processed thru their contacts.” He added that he did not expect the visa to be approved “under normal circumstances considering her lack of experience.” Malia told Sampson that “we need to tell them tentatively, the compensation that we would offer to her under both” the conditions. Sampson responded by saying that the salary for the internship would be in the £28,000 annually with leave. She added that if Mukherjee were to take up full-time employment, the compensation would be about £30,000 with an added bonus and benefits. She ended the email with, “I think the starting salary is academic as they will naturally want to go for the higher one so we would have to make it attractive.”
Malia sent this information to Bajaj, who asked for details on the “post tax salary amount in both situations.” Sampson wrote back on 24 September to Bajaj and Malia with information on the tax break-up. She also included a break-up of the amount that Mukherjee would get monthly along with details such as the insurance deductions.
Bajaj responded on 3 October, by which time he had received a copy of Mukherjee’s passport from Alok Chauhan. Bajaj wrote, “In reference to self explanatory trailing mails request you to arrange the appointment letter for Ms. Suchismita Mukherjee as an intern and advise us pertaining procedures and formalities to be completed from her end so we should coordinate for the same accordingly.” He had also attached a copy of Mukherjee’s passport.
In another instance, Bajaj wrote an email to Rahul Taneja—senior vice president and head of corporate human resources with the group—on 11 October 2012. The email with the subject “Reg: Avijit Banerjee” was marked “confidential” and of “high” importance. It read, “I once again request you to process the same as I am having constant pressure from the Hon’ble President.” The “same” in this case presumably referred to the resume of Banerjee, who, according to an email sent by Bajaj to Taneja and Malia on 10 September, had been “strongly recommended by the Hon’ble President Sh. Pranab Mukherjee.” Bajaj had also identified the project in Kolkata, where the “Hon’ble President has desire[d] to place him.”
On 8 June 2015, Monday, I contacted Banerjee through the phone number that was mentioned on the attached resume. He told me that he was still employed with Essar, and when I ventured to ask him about his proximity to Pranab Mukherjee, Banerjee said that “He [Pranab Mukherjee] is my father’s friend.” He added that it was “based on his [Mukherjee’s] recommendation that I got the job in 2013.” According to Banerjee, he started working with Essar on 2 January 2013, two months after Bajaj had sent a reminder to Taneja in October 2012.
However, even Banerjee was not the first of the kin that Pranab Mukherjee had pressurised Essar to absorb as an employee. On 1 May 2012, Bajaj wrote to Prashant Ruia, the chief executive officer of the group, that, during his meeting with Mukherjee—who was then the finance minister—on the previous day, Mukherjee “had shown his annoyance that Mr. Reddy has not been recruited so far.” Bajaj mentioned in the email that he had made a request to the human resources department on 14 November 2011 to “absorb him [Reddy] somewhere suitably.” In the email that Bajaj was referring to, he had told Taneja that the “CV of Santosh Reddy was given to me by a very senior politician.” Bajaj concluded the 2011 email by saying, “This is an important one for us as the concerned senior has again checked with me today about the status of his case. Please do the needful.”
In his email to Ruia in May 2012, Bajaj requested Ruia “to kindly approve so I can send a copy of the appointment letter for FM’s reference.” The next day, Kaushiki Srivastava, an employee at ESIL, wrote to Bajaj saying, “we are rolling out an offer to Mr. Santosh Reddy” with a salary of Rs 12 lakhs per annum. She added that the “Location will be Bangalore and he will be on ESIL rolls, reporting directly to you.” They were hoping for Reddy to join by 7 May 2012.
When I called Reddy on 8 June 2015 this week, he confirmed that he was still working with Essar but refused to answer any of my other questions. He did not respond to the multiple calls that I made from different numbers after that either.
I was trying to ask him if he was indeed “Guru ji’s” son before he disconnected. Guru Ji is NB Reddy, a spiritual guru at the Shambhulingeshwara temple situated in Bidar in Karnataka. However, when I called a number that I had found online for the temple, a person named Mallikarjun told me that Santosh is NB Reddy’s son. Malikarjun also added that Pranab Mukherjee was an ardent follower of Guru Ji, who is the reincarnation of Shambhulingeshwara. He told me that he had last seen Mukherjee at the temple in 2005, although Mukherjee continue to meet NB Reddy regularly in Delhi. Mukherjee’s daughter-in-law, Chitralekha Mukherjee, and grandson Arjun Mukherjee had visited the temple in June 2012, before his presidential bid.
Essar’s official spokesperson denied that any of the three mentioned here were hired because of their connections. The spokesperson said, over email, “At the outset, we wish to clarify that in the course of business, we receive recommendations for appointment from multiple sources, which are processed by the HR Department and if the applicants are found suitable for appointment, their capacity, integrity and competency would be assessed stringently in an interview held for the purpose and offers for appointment are made only to those applicants who succeed in such interview.
“In the present case, the three incumbents referred to in your email possessed qualifications for the appointment. They were appointed after following the internal selection procedure. Therefore, our decision to appoint them was not influenced by any extraneous consideration, as alleged by you or otherwise. Ms. Suchismita Mukherjee was not an employee, but she was appointed only as an intern for a period of one year, which she duly completed.”
There was no response from the President’s office.
Krishn Kaushik was formerly a staff writer at The Caravan.